I’m predisposed to having a scattered brain. Things seem like they are all over the floor every day and I have to pick them up and put them where they need to go. At the end of the day, most of the time, this works and the pieces fit. Sometimes they don’t and accepting that is learning how to be an adult.
The holidays make the mess seem bigger than it is. Holiday season knocks me off of a routine that I have cultivated, a routine that helps me with my scattered mind. I do embrace the holiday season, have fun and enjoy the moments. When the time off and the family time ebbs, the mess on the floor of my scattered brain looks bigger and more chaotic. My diet has gone off the rails — not a diet in the traditional sense, but my usual lifestyle of eating healthy — my weekly goals are blown out (some of you might have noticed that I didn’t post last week.) and inevitably something new is in the works. On top of that, the kids’ routine is shot, the family routine is shot and Monday hits with the momentum of a freight train that wasn’t planning to make a stop. As the adult and the parent, I have to get up, be even keeled and keep the ship tight and moving along.
My writing suffers too. During the holiday season, I find it difficult to work with steady vigilance because the money-making ventures and the accountability work gets done first. I don’t know why this is, but it is. I always end up figuring it out, we all do for the most part.
So, don’t let the holiday season get you down. Roll with it. If emotions are running high, let them. If chaos reigns supreme, let it. Stand back and watch the show. No one will get hurt, too badly. The dust will inevitably settle and life with course correct. ‘Tis the season.
Being caught inside is a term surfers use when stuck in the white water while trying to get to the wave they want to surf. A lot of beginners experience it, paddling out through the white water to get to the spot where you can actually catch the wave. Expert surfers get caught inside too — you’ll notice them diving under the white water of waves that have already broken, but usually they are just paddling out (A broken wave is the white part of the wave). Experts aren’t usually caught inside for long. They know how to read the current, find the channel or the rip tide quickly because they surf a lot and are in much better paddling shape than I am (Channels and rip tides help surfers get past the white water). Intermediate surfers like me can suffer on the inside.
I was in Nicaragua recently and the waves were big. I don’t usually surf big waves these days, but the water was warm and I was ready to surf. So, I was caught inside a lot. Knowing those nice warm waves were out there gave me the mental strength to paddle through the white water, eventually find the channel and get out. Catching one of those liquid freight trains made all the hard work, the suffering to get past the inside, worth it. Some surfers call it “paying the rent.” You don’t get a sweet wave without mother nature noticing, and she’ll make you pay. I probably like surfing so much because it’s such hard work, which makes the payoff amazing. It might also be the reason why I decided to commit to writing and publishing a novel. I can’t imagine the payoff won’t be amazing.
I’m nearing the middle of my fourth rewrite of this novel. Rejected many times before but encouraged to keep pushing, I’ve heard things like, “It’s good. Just fix this.” Or “I like it but it feels like a rough draft or an outline.” Little do they know I worked my ass off on each draft and thought it was a finished product each time. I’m a beginner in this novel writing endeavor, in the white water getting smashed and pushed around by the current, but I can see the wave, the book I want to see on the shelf, so I keep paddling. I keep writing. I sit at the desk and push on the keys to make the words, the sentence, the paragraph, the chapters and eventually the book. I’ll succeed. It’s just a matter of time.
Happy turkey day, if you’re into that.
Halloween might just be the start of it all.
Holidays are fun, don’t get me wrong or peg me as a humbugger. I love the festivities. My son takes Halloween to another level. His costume ideas begin Oct 1. By Oct 31, he’s gone through seven costume idea changes, at least four costume changes, each with their own subtle iteration of changes. The enthusiasm is contagious. Don’t get me started on Christmas, not to mention November; we have two birthdays, an anniversary and Thanksgiving in that month. It’s a little busy. I’m also going surfing in Nicaragua next week, so no post. I’m sure you’ll miss me.
To be clear on the work of writing: 1,500 words a day are hitting the page, minimum. Momentum is important.
Turn up the good, keep your holiday cool and don’t eat too much of your kids’ candy.
Sometimes you are fighting you.
I like to think we all strive to be better. I do. But there are days, weeks and even months where I’m stuck in a rut. Everyone gets stuck — if you say you don’t, go do 90 minutes of hot yoga. Your perseverance will be questioned in that class, and if you get through it, even with breaks and a lie-down or two, you have persevered.
Writing a novel is a mind game for me, a hot yoga class of creativity and work. Negativity flutters around the room like little winged demons as I begin to write. Inspiration is the trickster, the coyote tempting me toward the dark path of YouTube videos, Facebook memes and true crime stories. The real work is in front of me, words waiting to be written, to come from my mind to the page. I sit and I begin — it’s that simple. I turn on music, sometimes, and zero in on the partially written scene that was left for me the day before. When I begin, the demons’ screams fade, the coyote runs away, and if all goes well the muse arrives. I have persevered.
I had another story rejected recently. It stings, but I don’t let it sting for long. It becomes a scar, another slice from a sword in a battle that I fight every day. Some battles I win and some I lose, but my focus, my through-line is the big picture — The Novel. I will persevere.
Every character has a past.
I’ve spent a lot of time on creating the history of my characters — some professionals might say too much time. I’d say my novel started through the eyes of a character.
Building backstory for your characters brings them to life.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++— A barf cliché that’s true
The person reading your book wants to be lost in the story you have written. When each character in the story has his or her own history, even if their history doesn’t have a single line in the book, that character’s authenticity will show and the book will be better. If the book is better, the reader will be lost in the world you have created. As a writer, this is the ultimate goal.
The thing about backstory is that I can get lost in it while writing. What I have learned is that too much backstory takes the reader out of the story. That’s death for a novel. Once the reader is out the novelist has failed. I try to remember this and not think too much about it at the same time — Ugh. What I do is pepper in the backstory that is written somewhere else, maybe on a character file that I have created. Peppering, in my humble opinion, is using a line, a word, maybe some dialogue or nonverbal cue to get some of the backstory in. If done correctly the character has more depth and the story does too. No matter the role, every character in my novel has a past.
Let’s be clear, I haven’t published this novel, so I’m relating to you what I have learned from other writers, agents and publishers as well as my own experience. Some novelists write seamless back story into their novels. Maybe someday that will be me. For now, I’m sticking with the plan. Pepper in the back story, keep the gems and all the rest falls into the rhythm of a story I’d like to get lost in.
Yes or no?
I’ve asked a lot of writers this question, many accomplished and many not.
It’s a fifty-fifty split, roughly. The writers who use the outline tend to need it. The writers who don’t outline tend to despise the idea.
I was of the latter ilk until recently. I’ve rewritten my book three times. No outline. I don’t think the “no outline” is working for me. I’m not getting crazy with bullet points or roman numerals. I’m paraphrasing what happens in each chapter. This has helped me flush out the story, which is what I struggle with. I can write pretty sentences and compelling scenes, but they never go anywhere. The outline helps me figure out how to move the story forward, find plot holes, character flaws, keep track of characters and make sure that all the moving pieces are where I want them. It’s a helpful tool and I think it will give me more freedom to write the story without worrying if the story is working. I’m sure an editor will eviscerate it someday, but at least I’ll feel good about handing to and editor.
It’s not fun for me to write an outline. That’s a problem. I like things that are fun and I don’t like to do things that are not fun. Christ, I rewrote my novel three times instead of tackling the outline. The word, “outline” makes me cringe. It’s simplistic, I know. It’s a difficult truth that I must face. Learning how to do the not-so-fun stuff is what separates the hobbyist from the professional. I’m learning, and I like to learn.
I need it, thrive off of it. It might be a sickness, but it works.
It’s fuel. With writing comes rejection. A friend of mine actually said something a couple of weeks ago that has stuck with me, “Managing expectations is important.” There are very few truer words.
It’s important to remember that with rejection comes acceptance. It make take one hundred rejections, but when that acceptance comes knocking there is no better feeling. I read the letter/email (only email really), dance the jig on top of my roof, smile and think nothing in life can go wrong. It’s Glorious. This lasts about a day, and then I fall into managing my expectations again.
I expect to win, be successful and take the literary world by storm… someday. Right now, I manage my expectations, take rejection on the chin like a champ and push forward. Another friend called me a mensch. I’ll take it.
Rejection is just an obstacle on the course of life. I put it to writing because that is the path I have chosen, but whenever we put ourselves out there we are open to the demon of rejection. Either live with it and push forward or fear it and do nothing. In the end, you’ll know what worked for you and what didn’t.
Go out there and get rejected. You’ll survive and feel stronger for it.
You know who I’m talking about. There is one in everybody’s life. For the most part, these people were bullied as kids. They are angry, sad people. So, in part I feel bad for them — but that’s as far as it goes. I waste no calories with concern for their wellbeing.
Hating this person, attacking this person or trying to help this person is more than a waste of time, it will hurt you, take time from your precious day. This person is an emotional vampire who wants nothing more than to rule the roost. They make everyone who they interact with miserable and afraid.
They abuse authority, contribute nothing of importance to society and create struggle for everyone else. Life is already full of struggle, so the adult bully can go extinct for all I care. Which I think can happen. With the access to information we have now, I think that people will evolve out of being like this. Regardless, these are fools we must suffer sometimes. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. There are just awful people in the world. Maybe they just need a hug — I probably won’t be the one to give it to them.
One must fail to succeed. I’ve been told this ad nauseum. It keeps me from quitting, because success hasn’t happened yet. I wouldn’t say I’ve failed necessarily, but the climb can be excruciating. I can’t help but to us the Mt. Everest or K2 metaphor, both difficult, if not seemingly impossible, mountains to climb where death is a real possibility. Clearly, death isn’t possible while sitting at a desk and making shit up, but the death of my soul when I get rejected or find a massive hole in my plot is real, and it hurts. What I’ve come to realize is that my ego is getting pummeled.
Ego is the sense of self, self-importance, personal identity. Well, mine is wrapped up in writing and succeeding at doing so. I’m 44. I have kids. They ask when I’m going to be done with my book. “About three more years or so,” I say. My ego cringes. They look at me like I’m nuts and my daughter says, “I’ll be thirteen?” I die a little inside and say, “Yep. That sounds about right.” She makes a sound of exasperation and gets on with her day while I try not to reel on the fact that when this book is finally done it will have taken me eight years — I don’t try to explain that I have finished the book twice but the rewrites are where the real magic happens. I didn’t start this endeavor with any notion that it would be easy, I started because on my death bed I didn’t want to regret not doing it; so, it’s a long game, a slow burn and hopefully people will like the what I write.
Okay. What If I finish this thing and its wildly successful? Hell if I know, but I’ve been told it’s a one-in-a-million chance and it’s no good for the ego because I’ll always be chasing the dragon of success. I wonder if maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, but in my heart of hearts I know it would most likely not be a good thing — at least that’s what I tell myself.
It’s helpful, wild and wonderful when the sparks of inspiration fly. Creativity and motivation move through you with elegant perfection. The feeling can be transcendent. Lean back, absorb the endorphin rush and hopefully be inspired again.
What about after the dust settles and the haze of inspiration is gone? The work still needs to happen. Whether it’s a creative endeavor, exercise or a work project, if you don’t do the work the inspiration that got you there means nothing. Inspiration comes when it comes. You can’t depend on it.
I used to depend on it, until I got serious. I’d like to say I can push through the tough times without wishing for inspiration, but I’m not there yet. I missed a blog post last week, I didn’t work on my novel and no short stories were submitted. Life got complicated and I let it get in the way of what I love to do. What happened my mind and my spirit was interesting, maybe even inspirational. I got depressed. Not severely, but life had no vigor, greens were less green and reds were less red. If I’m sticking with the color metaphor, I was blue.
Creativity needs inspiration, but can’t live on such a fleeting concept. Work is the purveyor, and part of what work means is getting through the many uninspired moments. It’s bleak, I know, but it’s reality. I try to recognize inspiration and ration it, use small amounts until it wears off. For example, after a writer’s retreat or conference, I used to come home and blast off with wild abandon; but the rush of being inspired wore off quick. Now, I try to recognize the inspiration and use the tools I have acquired to control the drip. I know it’s nuts, but that’s how I view it.